After Eros - The Boston Globe - March 2, 2002

Fleming's Dark Soul Blossoms in ‘After Eros’


Sometimes, as you watch Maureen Fleming perform, it's hard to believe your eyes. Poised in profile atop a black-draped platform and starkly lit from the side, her body arcs into a crescent moon and then spirals downward, like water slipping through a drain. Splayed upside-down along an interminable flight of stairs, she recalls the splintered angularity of bone. Now she's sprouting branches as limbs. Now she's a butterfly breaking out of a diaphonous cocoon.

The last image is particularly apt: Fleming's four-piece solo show, “After Eros” — with brief text by David Henry Hwang and thrumming, rippling music by Philip Glass — was inspired by the myth of Psyche and Eros. The references to the story of the immortal lovers are oblique. But the linking of Fleming's work to the mythic characters is quite clear.

"Psyche," after all, is the Greek word for both "butterfly" and “soul"; it alludes to the rebirth of the lowly caterpillar in a blaze of glory in the spring. Fleming in "After Eros" is obsessed with the soul — in particular with its suffering, and how that suffering leads to regeneration.

It's weighty stuff, and in the hands of someone less articulate could be deadly. But Fleming, who's developed her own elegant brand of Japanese butoh, has made it mesmerizing.

Sometimes referred to as "dance of the dark soul," butoh was born of a repudiation, on the part of originators Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, of both Western modern dance and Japanese classical forms such as noh and kabuki. (Fleming, an American born in Japan, studied with Ohno.) Majestic and horrifying at once, it traditionally traces the cyclical themes of annihilation and rebirth — not surprising for an artform that rose from the ashes of post WWII Hiroshima. Its hallmark is exceptional physical articulation. Fleming is something of a master: She shifts through shapes with am excruciating slowness that virtually eliminates the seams between gestures. The effect is one of stopping time, or of losing a hunk of it altogether.

The most striking of Fleming's offerings ("The Sphere," "The Stairs," "Axis Mundi (Tree of Life)," and "Flower") is "Axis Mundi." The piece is set in a shallow pool, and features music by Somei Satoh as well as Glass that includes chanting, piano (played live), cicada-like buzzing, and echoes so astonishing they reverberate in your chest. It traces a personal journey of Fleming's: By working through her own pain (in part physical, caused by a car accident that damaged her spine when she was young), Fleming has evolved to set her own soul free. The moods in the work range from the tranquil (Fleming, nude, balanced on hip and forearm with knees together, raises a cupped hand that recalls a bud pushing through soil) to the nearly violent. At one point, she turns slowly with arms outstretched while clutching gnarled branches; her sternum is lifted, her mouth is frozen in a silent howl. Sticks jut out from under her bare breasts. The image is at once terrifying and cleansing. By the end Fleming has passed through fire and come out whole. The evening was exhilarating.